Natalie Glenn went to bed on November 19, 2017 like it was any ordinary night.
She woke up to her entire world being turned upside down.
“Family friends had to wake me and my siblings up in the middle of the night,” the Southlake Carroll sophomore said. “They said that there was something wrong and we need to go to the hospital.”
Her father, Terry Glenn, a star wide receiver at Ohio State who played 12 years in the NFL, including the last five with the Dallas Cowboys, died early that Monday morning in a car accident near Irving. He was 43.
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“On the ride over I thought about all the possible things it could be, but never thought when I said bye to my dad to go to practice earlier that it would be my last,” Glenn said. “When my mom came down and found out what happened she broke it to my siblings and I. She said ‘there’s no good way to say this but daddy has died.’ I broke down in tears and felt helpless. It felt like I died because I just lost my best friend.”
Natalie searched for a way to honor her late father on the volleyball court. So she had a discussion when her new coach, Teresa Dunn, who was hired in the spring.
Natalie wanted to switch from No. 21 to No. 83, her father’s number.
“I told her if it’s something you’d like to do then I’ll get you a brand new jersey,” Dunn said. “It was one of the first times I talked to her.
“I went in and customized it so when she leaves Carroll, those jerseys are hers to keep. I wanted to help in any way to honor her father.”
Added Natalie: “I wasn’t sure if it was still going to happen, but coach Dunn asked me and I said yes. I talked it over with my mom and she said it was an awesome idea.”
It seemed like the perfect fit too.
Glenn recorded 17 kills, 11 digs and a .571 hitting percentage in the season opener.
“Everyone that knows me and my dad would say we’re twins because we were exactly the same inside and out. We were both really shy, but once you get to know us, we’re both really funny,” said Glenn, who was named Newcomer of the Year for the Star-Telegram and District 5-6A last season. “We don’t talk a lot, but when we do we can’t stop.”
While the new jersey number helped, the reality of what life had become was still hard to comprehend. Glenn thought she had enough time to adjustment, but going back to school didn’t help at first.
“I thought it would take my mind off him, but it made things worse. I felt like people were staring at me all day. I didn’t know how to talk to my friends and teachers, and it was hard not to cry,” said Glenn, who recorded 18 double-doubles and finished second on the team with 466 kills and 518 digs as a freshman. “I didn’t go to school for the rest of the week, but all I could think about was my dad.”
After a while, school became easier and more helpful. She went to counselors and they gave Glenn her own room to work in. They allowed some of her closest friends to spend an hour with her each day before she went back to work.
“School helped me so much by doing that and let me go back when I was ready, and that was about a month and a half later,” Glenn said.
The courage that Natalie showed through it all was uplifting to those around her.
“I’m big on relationships and to me I want to have one with a kid outside of volleyball,” Dunn said. “To me, having that conversation with Natalie in April helped speed up our relationship. I can’t imagine losing my dad at 16, and she’s handled it well.”
Terry Glenn, who has six children, was picked seventh overall by the New England Patriots in the 1996 NFL Draft, and caught Tom Brady’s first touchdown pass in 2001. He finished his career with 593 catches for 8,823 yards and 44 touchdowns. He had 208 receptions for 3,337 yards and 20 touchdowns with the Cowboys.
He remained in North Texas after his career and started the 83 Kids Foundation.
“He was a big volleyball fan even though he couldn’t make every game,” Natalie said. “He’d always check on me, but during my freshman year since I made varsity, he made sure he was at every single game. I was always happy to see him in the stands.”